Monthly Archives: October 2006

Board Games With Scott

In the past I’ve plugged the Democracy Player. It’s a little piece of software that acts kind of like a TV with specific channels of content. You subscribe to a channel and when someone posts new video to that channel the player uses Bittorrent to go and get it for you to watch whenever you feel like it. It’s the video equivalent to podcasting but it’s about where podcasting was a couple of years ago. There aren’t a lot of big name shows that everybody is watching yet.
While we’re waiting for the super popular channels, I’d like to throw in a quick plug for a cool channel that you should add if the subject interests you. It’s Board Games with Scott. Every couple of weeks he takes a new board game and reviews it. He lets you see the box and what is inside and then he describes who the game might appeal to before demonstrating what the actual play is like. I like it and I particularly like that he doesn’t have an obsessive focus for any one type of game. He’s done party games for groups, games for two. Games that take hours and games that take minutes. With what he tells you in a short show, you can immediately tell if the game is something that would interest you or the people you might play it with.
Here are a few examples of episodes he did which I found interesting: Board Games 101 Hoity Toity The Fury of Dracula GiftTRAP
He has a website, so you can download any of his shows from there if you don’t want to use the Democracy Player to get it. However, if you do, you get a couple of advantages. One is that Scott doesn’t pay as much for bandwidth. Bittorrent spreads out the uploading of a video file to everybody who has already downloaded it. So you get some from the main server but you may get just as much from other Democracy Player users who also grabbed that same show. Secondly, it comes to you automatically. You don’t have to remember to go get it. It’s just sitting there in the player when you look and you click to play.

A Golden Age For Fantasy And Science Fiction On Television?

Lost, Heroes, Battlestar Galactica, and Doctor Who. Four shows which often fall in the “great” category and are getting both much love from critics, awards, and are doing very well in the ratings. Why? I don’t know all the reasons, but without a doubt one of the prime reasons is our old friend the computer. With 3D software and digital imaging trickery getting ever more sophisticated, faster, easier, and most of all cheaper, the massive costs that made some of these stories impossible to tell because the budgets would have been over the moon have come down to a level where the BBC and the Sci-Fi channel can afford to produce them and not have to pull them after only a few episodes because massive costs aren’t justifying the audience levels they are seeing. It’s finally getting cheap enough to just tell the story you want to tell, even if it’s fanciful or strange, even if it requires special effects to tell it, as long as it’s a good story.
Another element seems to be the stories themselves. Three of these are driven by large ensemble casts and they are trying to tell compelling ongoing stories which are driven by character development and the revelation of large ongoing mysteries; why are they here on this island and what is the island, how will these heroes get together and what challenges will they face, or will the remains of humanity ever escape the Cylons and who among them are really not human at all. Yes, special effects have gotten cheaper and they can now use them when they want them, but they don’t drive a show that anybody cares about, characters and story do that. These shows understand what to focus on.
And lastly, the removal of barriers to entry. When the X-Files came on, if you wanted to join the party late, you had to do pretty much exactly that. You started watching with the latest episodes. If you were really lucky you knew a friend who had taped some of them. These days, if you miss a single episode of a show like Heroes, so what? You buy it for a couple of bucks from iTunes or you download it somewhere. With shows like Lost or Galactica you can buy, borrow, or rent DVD releases of previous seasons you’ve missed to catch up in a hurry. So nobody gets left out when something turns out to be really great but you didn’t start watching from day one. We are a perfect example of that because we didn’t start watching Lost until six or seven episodes into the first season but we were able to catch up when everybody who was watching insisted we start.
Consider this my opportunity to do the same with you. Heroes is fantastic. It is my new favorite show. Battlestar Galactica has proven to be consistently deep, dark, and wonderful. The new episodes of Doctor Who are a lot prettier than the older ones but more than that they’re doing a great job of focusing on the stories and making them still feel like they should. Lost has two excellent seasons behind it and the third one is cracking along nicely. Some people feel a kind of “mystery fatigue” set in after a while with shows like this if they feel like it’s being made up along the way but Lost has done a much better job of revealing things regularly (unlike say Twin Peaks) and setting up new mysteries to keep you interested. It doesn’t feel as tightly plotted as Babylon 5 was, but the dialog doesn’t make you cringe like Babylon 5 did either. Go watch these shows. Watch them from the beginning and I’ll bet that at least a couple will really hook you in and make you think like I do, that as far as TV is concerned, this might be the best time ever.

ComicRack Comic Reader Is Like iTunes For eComics

ComicRack represents a step in the right direction for reading eComics. It attempts to do more than a simple reader like CDisplay because it catalogs the comics, shows you the covers, even lets you note which ones you have and haven’t read or which are favorites.
Like CDisplay it handles any CBR or CBZ file, both of which are just a collection of JPG images wrapped in a rename RAR or ZIP file. Because the author is interested in more than just displaying a single issue for you, he can think in terms of bigger picture features like allowing you to read the comics on one machine from another remotely, just like iTunes. Give it a try, it’s under constant, almost daily development so improvements are coming regularly.

Ubuntu Just Works

I recently downloaded Ubuntu 6.06 and tried it out on my laptop (an HP zt3000). It comes as a “Live CD” which means that you can insert it into a PC that only has Windows installed and when you reboot the machine it can load and run Ubuntu Linux directly off the CD to let you try it without installing anything. But you can also use the same CD to do an installation of the OS onto a machine as well.
I had thought that the laptop would be kind of a worst case scenario. I’ve heard of past versions of Linux having trouble with the unusual hardware that sometimes appears on laptops. I figured if it could handle that it could probably handle most standard hardware people are likely to see day-to-day. Graphics, audio, the touchpad, even the wireless networking hardware built into the laptop were all detected and worked perfectly. I typed in the WEP key for my network (using a simple to find dialog for setting up networking) so the laptop could get onto the network and it all worked perfectly and fast. It also had no problems browsing the file server I use (a Buffalo Teraserver) or any of the Windows machines on my network either.
You can install tons of software once you’ve installed the OS itself. Debian has always made that really easy (easier than software installation on Windows in fact) and Ubuntu is based on Debian. But the live CD has to include a set of software for people who just want to try it out and for those people Ubuntu includes some simple games, the latest version of Open Office, Firefox, a good email program, The Gimp (a photo manipulation application), and quite a bit more software to let you see quickly whether this is the ticket for you.
Update: Just since I tried this out last weekend it seems that a new version of Ubuntu has been released (6.10) with, they claim, many “exciting new features”.